Biodiversity Conservation in Bhutan

Many reports depict Bhutan as one of the 10 global biodiversity hotspots, but nowhere did I find that Bhutan is recognized as stand-alone hotspot. However, Bhutan does form part of biodiverse Eastern Himalayan region as identified by international conservation organizations [hotspots; endemic bird areas; crisis eco-regions; last of the wild] to prioritize and allocate conservation efforts.

Article 5 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan is dedicated to Environment and I believe Bhutan is probably the only country in the world wherein constitution of the country has an article on environment. Article 5, section 3 of the Constitution states; “The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time”. Bhutan seems to be faring well with regards to the forest cover, as the National Forestry Inventory report (Vol. I) published in 2016 mentions that 71% of the total geographic area of Bhutan is forests

Protected area network of Bhutan [Rajaratnam et al, 2016]
Bhutan is also known for having little over 50% of the country designated as protected area and Honourable Prime Minister of Bhutan remarked Bhutan as carbon negative country in the world during his recent Ted Talk, which gained lots of attention. Under the visionary noble leadership of the monarchs, Bhutan has always done well in conservation front. However, unlike protected areas elsewhere, Bhutan always recognized humans as the integral part of the conservation efforts. In 1999, Bhutan established network of Biological Corridors as a gift to the Earth from Bhutan. These Biological Corridors connects all protected areas of the country providing a continuous connectivity of the habitat right from the sub-tropical belt to the alpine belt of the country. Establishment of the Biological Corridor in itself is a testimony toward biodiversity conservation as it forms vital links between various protected areas avoiding formation of conservation islands. Biological Corridors are not there for name and fame, as we now have the evidence of how healthy our corridors are.

Recent (2015) national tiger survey recorded 103 tigers in the country from 150 – 4000 meters above mean sea level and snow leopard survey (2016), revealed Bhutan as home to 96 snow leopards from 3404 – 5185 meters. This probably is an indication of Bhutan being the only place on earth wherein the habitats of these two charismatic big cats overlap. Besides that, an article published in Oryx (2013), reported that within the area of just 74 km2, six species of felids were recorded in Royal Manas National Park and this record I believe is one of the highest conglomerations of felid species within such small area. Though, similar diversity of felids was reported from elsewhere, it was all covering much larger areas [more than 500 km2].

While Bhutan boasts’ the presence of diverse flora and fauna and majority of country designated as protected areas and almost 3/4th of the country covered by forests, Bhutan still has its own challenges. One of the most important conservation challenges is the onset of development in the country; in particular hydro-power development. There has been fanatics from both sides of the table with some pro-conservationist and some pro-development. However, Bhutan has always been guided by vision 2020, which recognized the middle path. If I’m to analyze the arguments these wonderful fanatics expressed, I’m inclined to believe that Bhutan cannot survive as a country purely based on some romantic ideas. We should be practical and make best use of the resources we are blessed with, but not to the extent of stretching ourselves and our resources to the limit. We need hydro-power and we should earn and make best use of our natural capital, however we should also be wary of the grave consequences of natural resources depletion. The later part is particularly important for Bhutan given the geology and the topography of the country.

We need hydro-power for country’s economy, but we should know that Bhutan is known to the outside world only for two things; i. culture and ii. conservation efforts of the country; both of which are very well reflected in the development philosophy of Bhutan, Gross National Happiness. We want development but not at the cost of conservation and we also want conservation but not at the cost of development. Fanatics are important in any context to act as a check but we need fanatics with practical justifications and not just like street dogs who barks’ just because another is barking.

Our people lived with human-wildlife conflicts for ages; our people lived with conservation but not with development; and our people want development but not at the costs of natural resources.

Palden Drukpa —- Gyal Lo!!!

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